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Decommissioning Copper: It's About Time


A cut copper cord for an old telephone
Image: Michael Tieck -
Though newer, more efficient technologies are available to IT, many enterprises still say, “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.” If a service isn't causing headaches for IT managers, who are bogged down with day-to-day operations, and there aren't any hiccups, then why bother? Despite this reluctance, a trend has emerged where providers of those reliable services, like copper-wired telecom services, are encouraging a change to newer, more efficient technologies — decommissioning or sunsetting old services.
Many network circuit providers are abandoning their copper-wired telecom networks for fiber-based networks. The shift to fiber is happening for several reasons. First, older network gear is harder to support and maintain, and technicians with the skills necessary to fix copper facilities are retiring. Secondly, parts are difficult to acquire, if at all, and expensive to repair. Third, the copper infrastructure itself is aging, and improving it is costly. Additionally, carriers have invested a lot of money in the rollout of fiber networks. Fiber offers faster speeds, a wider range of services available, and more sales opportunities for carriers. Lastly, many customers are cutting the cord, so these copper-based services are no longer a profit center. So, carriers have a lot of incentive to forsake their old networks.
Carriers have slowly been moving away from their older infrastructure for a while. Many have refused to renew term agreements. Instead of signing a new contract for the same services, carriers are only offering fiber-based services. Another way carriers have discouraged the use of older services is to raise the rates on those lines and circuits. In many areas of the country, one could buy a single plain old telephone service (POTS) for $30 per month. Now, to continue using that service, rates have been increased dramatically. In some places, POTS lines go for as much as $200-400 per month.
For PRI and T-1 service, the same thing is happening. Carriers refuse to sign contracts, and the rates are skyrocketing. Other carriers have gone as far as to give their customers a date by which they will no longer offer or support the services. Recently, AT&T notified some customers that they need to find an alternative to their TDM services by the end of July 2021 because they are stopping those service offerings. Windstream and Verizon, among others, have given customers the same kind of ultimatums.
What can customers do to avoid this reality of essentially being fired by their carriers? Looking at all fixed IT services is a great place to start. When was the last time all the lines, circuits, bills, and charges were reviewed? Have amounts due on the carrier invoices been slowly increasing? Has your carrier sent any form of notification of a decommissioning timetable?
To avoid these rate increases or cancellation of services, you should be proactive. Find ways to move to fiber-based services. For example, can your older model PBX handle SIP trunking? If not, can a fiber VoIP service be installed and a router convert the SIP to a PRI protocol? You would get the advantages of a fiber service like bandwidth, reliability, and lower prices but still run your legacy PBX until you are ready to replace it. During the review of a client’s local telecom bill, we found that their PRI contract expired. We asked the vendor for a new term agreement. The vendor offered us a new fiber-based circuit agreement that would improve reliability at 2/3 the costs. Another audit of a client’s local telephone bill uncovered 400 POTS lines. We literally dialed each one to find out what/who answered on the other end. Many were in service for a specific business need, but half of them could be eliminated completely or converted to LTE.
A client recently mentioned that they had a carrier bill that increased by 2/3 in the last three months. Upon examination of the bill, we found three private, low-bandwidth copper data circuits installed in 1997, which had a specific purpose when installed. Once we identified where the circuits were installed, we found that two of the three lines were no longer necessary, and the third could most likely replace by a newer, significantly less expensive service. The annual savings will be nearly $500,000 per year! The “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” approach was breaking the budget.
These are just a couple of ways where paying attention to the details can reap big rewards. The FCC has offered some suggestions on how to handle service decommissioning (read more about them here or here).
Don’t have the resources in-house to do this kind of evaluation? Now would be a good time to engage a seasoned technology consultant specializing in cost reduction and contract negotiation. Consultants can easily identify older services, recommend new, less expensive services, provide guidance on competitive market rates and negotiate with carriers on your behalf. Don’t let the carrier fire you. Collect the data and knowledge necessary to get a step ahead of them before they cut you off.

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"SCTC Perspective" is written by members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants, an international organization of independent information and communications technology professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.

Knowing the challenges many enterprises are facing during COVID-19, the SCTC is offering to qualified members of the Enterprise Connect user community a limited, pro bono consulting engagement, approximately 2 - 4 hours, including a small discovery, analysis, and a deliverable. This engagement will be strictly voluntary, with no requirement for the user/client to continue beyond this initial engagement. For more information or to apply, please visit us here.